The Zimmerman Verdict and the Gun Control Debate

Will "not guilty" spur on the gun control crowd, or embolden Second Amendment stalwarts?

We’re fairly clear on the outrage that’s flowing from Twitter feed to city squares in the post-Zimmerman trial landscape. Fortunately, at least in the short term, social media may have saved the day. It’s not what it was over two decades ago, and Sanford is just not the social unrest Ground Zero that Los Angeles was in the wake of Rodney King. A free tweet from a smart phone is much easier than throwing a brick into a store display window; and, oh yeah, there’s less risk involved.  It’s still early, but many have concluded that it’s just not worth it to go that far.

This is the “where do we go from here” phase. Folks are still a bit fuzzy on that because the shock of how someone gets away with even accidentally letting a gun kill another human being is still settling in. An anonymous juror on CNN offered that it was a lack of good judgment on the part of the accused — while attempting to offer some tone of empathy for what amounted to an awkward situation. If state attorney Angela Corey’s office of keystone prosecutors had only pursued this case with as much zeal as they had the case of Marissa Alexander, who is now serving a 20-year sentence in a Florida jail for apparently exercising a bit of “stand your ground” against a husband with a record of previously abusing her. Alexander claims she was merely defending herself and fired a warning shot; the husband — who admits to prior bouts of violence — was not hit. Nor were the kids who were present.

But you can’t discount how weird this looks. And Corey herself has yet to credibly answer this question. How did a woman and former victim of abuse in the same Central Florida area end up with a 20-year sentence for firing a warning shot that did not kill a person … compared to the eager neighborhood watchman who got to walk after actually killing someone. Absent any opinion on how the jury should have ruled, you have to admit — regardless of where you stand on this case — that it’s just downright odd. We can point to any number of times where folks end up incarcerated for using bad judgment — in fact, we actively go about our routine in hopes we exercise enough good judgment to avoid any sort of criminal charge.

The anonymous juror’s recent entrance into the fray definitely adds new compelling twists to the civil actions soon to follow. Zimmerman’s lawyer is quick to move on NBC for defamation because someone needs to find George the loot he’ll have to cough up for the Martin family law suit in the works.

But, let’s face it: A lot of where this heads depends greatly on the national political climate. The holes poked in the Zimmerman trial over the past several weeks may have proven that the case was as politically volatile as it was legally sound. That explains the public outcry and incredulity.

Many advocates, commentators and politicians had, perhaps, set unrealistic expectations for a myriad of political reasons. The Trayvon Martin tragedy served as an opportunity for a “wake up” cry for a civil rights movement on a dangerous snooze. Movements aren’t triggered by realities; they are, instead, sparked by moments or sudden events. High unemployment rates and war-zone murders in Chicago, for example, weren’t enough; but, a random and senseless act of violence confined to two individuals locking horns on a sidewalk apparently was the last straw.

For better or for worse, the Martin tragedy was a way to reawaken a black political continuum desperately searching for relevance and needed momentum. There was a newfound political urgency in Trayvon that contributed to a larger political narrative pushing black voters in 2012, offsetting worries of an Obama re-election bid loss. Not only were Republicans stealing voting rights, the narrative went, but white guys (or guys that look white or are, at least, half-white) are murdering black boys.

Political strategists are examining whether that same narrative could be useful as the 2014 Congressional midterm elections approach. Republicans are expected to maintain their grip on the House and observers are now mulling a GOP surge overtaking a slim Democratic majority in the Senate. With loyal Democratic demographics, such as African Americans and young people, typically sleeping on the midterms, strategists and advocates on the left will need a spark to keep a bit of the 2012 fire lit. While there’s no question Republicans will continue their House majority in 2014, there is an open question about the margin. How much is gained or lost could hinge greatly on what voting bloc is mobilized the most.

That remains unclear. We are seeing some signs of a clumsy and disjointed effort to revive gun control legislation beginning to take effect. Easier to frame the debate around the perception of a black boy murdered at the hands of a gun-owning white man in the South than to frame it around knuckleheaded and mostly black kids killing one another on the South Side of Windy City. But, gun control funders like Michael Bloomberg and Gabrielle Giffords must reconcile: Do you go down that path? And do you risk further angering the fringe element of pro-gun rights advocates who may be emboldened by Zimmerman’s acquittal in what could be perceived as a winning round in the fight to keep the Second Amendment intact?

While Obama proceeds to play it safe — his very measured comments one more example of the second-term president acting as if he’s still in his first term — his Attorney General gives all the signs of playing it risky. But this is all political window dressing. This is the appearance of something being done when the various political players (in consultation with their legal experts) know full and well that nothing can be done. Quickly dispatching Attorney General Eric Holder to the NAACP annual conference is good call and response, but it won’t change the fact that his Justice Department will be hard pressed to find any evidence of a hate crime taking place. But, you can’t fault anyone in politics for getting lost in the details.

CHARLES D. ELLISON is Washington Correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune and Chief Political Correspondent for UPTOWN Magazine. He is heard each week on WDAS 105.3 FM every Sunday at 9:50am ET and can be reached via Twitter @charlesdellison.